Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
organisation – ‘mode of production’ – changes, but what characterises all modes is
a class relationship in which one class exploits another. Exploitation is made possible
by the unequal ownership of the two things that enable an increase in production:
the means of production and labour power. The former includes such things as
factories and tools, while the latter consists of the skills of labour, both physical
and mental. At the time at which Marx was writing – the mid- to late nineteenth
century – capitalism had emerged as the dominant mode of production. For Marx,
the key features of capitalism are as follows.

  • Ownership Under capitalism, in contrast to previous modes of production, every
    person owns his own labour power. However, a minority class – the capitalists,
    or bourgeoisie – own a monopoly of the means of production, with the
    consequence that the majority class – the working class, or proletariat – can
    survive only by selling their labour power to the capitalists.

  • Capital which can be defined as an ‘expanding source of value’, is unequally
    owned: one class (capitalists, or the bourgeoisie) are in a position to benefit from
    this expansion of value by virtue of their ownership of the means of production.

  • Exploitation The true value of labour is not the price it commands in the market
    (the wage) but the amount of time that goes into the production of the commodity
    (labour value). The worker does not receive the full value of his product – the
    difference between the wage and labour value is the amount creamed off by the
    capitalist. This is what Marx means by exploitation.

  • Use value and exchange value A distinction is drawn between the value we get
    from a commodity (use value) and its price (exchange value). Every commodity
    has a use value, but not everything that has a use value is a commodity. For
    example, air has a use value but it is not a commodity and hence does not have
    an exchange value. If pollution became very bad, and everybody had to carry a
    supply of clean air, and somebody started bottling and selling it, then it would
    acquire an exchange value in addition to its use value.

  • Markets Interaction between individuals takes place through the laws of supply
    and demand. These laws fulfil two functions: (a) to provide information on how
    much of a particular product should be produced and at what price, and (b) to
    provide incentives to produce, and these incentives derive from self-interested
    motivations. Marx argues that the market is not in long-term equilibrium, and
    is subject to increasingly severe depressions. He further argues that capitalism
    assumes people are by natureselfish; this Marx rejects as an ontologisation of
    historical experience – that is, turning something transitory into an ahistorical
    Marxists have tended not to engage in debate with liberals (or libertarians),
    rejecting as they do certain fundamental claims about the nature of human
    motivation and political epistemology. On human motivation, for example, Rawls
    maintains that the principles of justice apply to a society characterised by moderate
    scarcity in which people are in conflict over the distribution of those (moderately)
    scarce resources. A Marxist would maintain that when production levels reach a
    certain point – and capitalism is historically useful because it massively increases
    productivity – we will be in a position to say that there is no longer scarcity and
    the causes of social conflict will be removed. Regarding political epistemology–
    that is, how we knowwhat is just – Marxists maintain that it is only in a post-

90 Part 1 Classical ideas

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